Tommy Nail and Willie Dellow. Photograph: Horace Warner
Tommy Nail and Willie Dellow. Photograph: Horace Warner

For over a century, Horace Warner’s photographs of Spitalfields were hidden in his grandson’s house in East Anglia.

The Gentle Author, pen name of the Spitalfields Life blog’s anonymous author, managed to contact Warner’s grandson and see the snaps.

They show the youth of Spitalfields in alleys, byways and yards, chopping wood, washing windows and playing games. In one photograph children are playing Sally Go Round the Moon, a game still played by children today.

The Gentle Author points out that Warner’s photographs are in stark contrast to those by social campaigners in the same era.

“There’s a lot of joy in these photographs. Warner knew these children. He was the superintendent of the Sunday school at the Bedford Institute and they loved him.

“Images by social campaigners wanted to make the children look as poor as possible. The children became emblems of poverty.” The images join a selection purchased by the Bedford Institute in the Gentle Author’s latest publication Spitalfields Nippers.

Thanks to information gathered from the 1901 census, the book includes more than 20 biographies of the children in the photographs.

They show how the children went on to work as boot finishers, mould makers and pressers. There are accounts of families living on Commercial Road with four of their ten children dead. Others went on to fight in World War II and live until they were 70.

Warner was a wallpaper designer as well as a photographer and there is a wonderful texture to his photographs, visible in the streets and clothes.

The clothes children wear contain their own history. Spitalfields was the centre of the clothing and textile industry for centuries. Children’s clothes came from the Houndsditch Rag Fair, and had been through a lot of owners. The market was eventually shut down because the clothes spread smallpox.

These are honest and compassionate photographs, carefully selected and bound. “These weren’t the good old days and they weren’t the bad old days,” adds The Gentle Author. “These children were born in these circumstances and these photographs are the result.”

Spitalfields Nippers is published by Spitalfields Life. RRP: £20.00.ISBN: 9780957656949

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